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Not A 'Dummy' Move: Vent Museum To Get An Upgrade

Courtesy of Vent Haven
This is just a glimpse of the nearly 1,000 dummies at Vent Haven. The man who started the collection had 500 when he died in 1972.

Northern Kentucky's Vent Haven Museum, the world's only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism, is busy cleaning its collection, adding to it and preparing to re-open in May 2021.

The seasonal museum was never designed to be open all year by the man who started it. Ft. Mitchell's W. S. Berger worked at Cambridge Tile in Cincinnati, rising from mailroom clerk to CEO. Vent Haven Curator Lisa Sweasy says even though he tried to be a ventriloquist, he was terrible at it and he knew it. So, he stuck to collecting, amassing 500 dummies by the time he died in 1972.

The museum is open by appointment from May until September. Sweasy says people come from all over and aren't necessarily ventriloquist hobbyists. "I get a lot of people who are travelers who are looking for the one-off attraction. You know, what can I do in the Cincinnati area that I can't do anywhere else?"

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Toily T. Paper is actually a puppet, and very fitting for the pandemic. Curator Lisa Sweasy liked it and added it to the collection.

As of the beginning of December, Vent Haven had 996 dummies. Toiley T. Paper is a puppet and Sweasy couldn't resist, so she bought it and added it to the collection.

"I think it's really a cute plush. My husband thinks he looks like a marshmallow and I could make him into a s'more if I wanted to, right?"

Sweasy got some good news this fall when the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitor's Bureau forgave a $10,000 debt the museum owed. Since 1980, Vent Haven was paying $1,000 a year for part of an Edgar Bergen collection that somebody had donated to the Bureau.

There is something else that will help the museum thrive - a bigger display space. Sweasy says next year they will tear down two outbuildings to make room for construction of a bigger one. Finally, she says, they can increase museum programs with things like puppet-making and ventriloquist lessons.

Until Vent Haven opens next spring Sweasy has her hands full with cleaning all the dummies and archiving.

You can take a tour of the museum virtually.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.